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The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes Release Date, Cast, Trailer, Plot And More Details

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"The Hunger Games" film franchise burst onto the scene back in 2012. The first four movies, which adapt Suzanne Collins' three main "Hunger Games" books, star Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a young woman living in the futuristic dystopia of Panem. This brutal society holds a yearly contest that pits teenagers against each other in a televised battle to the death. Initially, all Katniss wants is to make it out of the Hunger Games alive, but she soon becomes a symbol of hope and rebellion against the authoritarian regime. Freeing Panem from tyranny is a worthy cause, but as she and her loved ones eventually discover, the price is hideously high.

The "Hunger Games" films proved to be hugely successful, raking in just under $3 billion worldwide. It's not surprising, then, that Lionsgate would be interested in reviving the franchise. Now, the series will be going back in time with a prequel film, "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes." Based on Collins' novel of the same name, this new film will follow a young Coriolanus Snow. In Katniss' time, he's the fiendish despot who menaces her across all four movies. But here, he's a young man looking to make his mark on a brutal world. The 10th annual Hunger Games provide him with an opportunity for ascension — and plenty of complicating factors. From its glittering cast to its spectacular plotline, we're taking a look at everything you need to know about "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes."

When will The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes be released?

Fans haven't enjoyed a new "Hunger Games" movie since "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2" hit theaters in 2015. Thankfully, they don't have much longer to wait: "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" is set to debut on November 17, 2023. 

Some fans might still feel this wait is too long to bear. But it should be noted that this movie has made a relatively speedy journey to the big screen. The book it's based on, Suzanne Collins' "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes," was released in 2020. That's a pretty swift turnaround between publication and cinematic adaptation, even for a blockbuster franchise. This timeline is even more impressive when you take the COVID-19 pandemic into account: The crisis hit mere months before the book was launched, spoiling all hopes of real-world tours and events. As the pandemic ground on, the movie's production schedule was doubtlessly impacted — yet the powers that be still managed to get it cast, planned, filmed, edited, and ready to go in just a few years. Even the most eager fans can appreciate that sort of flexibility and determination.

Moreover, as of this writing, "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" doesn't seem at risk of being delayed by the ongoing Hollywood strikes. Production is entirely done, so it's set to debut in November.

What is the plot of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes?

In "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes," Coriolanus Snow is a young man with a massive weight on his shoulders: His family is crumbling, and he might be the only person who can save it. Accomplishing this gets even more difficult when he's sent to mentor District 12's female tribute to the 10th annual Hunger Games: Lucy Gray Baird, a gutsy musician. She wants to win, and her charisma might just help her achieve this.

But the Capitol is as thorny as ever, and plenty of people would like to see Snow and Lucy burn. New characters like Casca Highbottom, architect of the Games, and Dr. Volumnia Gaul, head gamemaker, cast long shadows, while ancestors of figures we're already familiar with, like Lucky Flickerman, reveal just how deeply-rooted Panem's dysfunction truly is. Things get even more complex when Snow's feelings for Lucy become deeper and more urgent than simple mentorship. 

As reported by Deadline, producer Nina Jacobson described the movie as an independent entity. "It's a new story, with new ground and new characters," she remarked at CineEurope. "We were able to create a completely different visual language ... one that is still recognizably Panem, but also different and fresh." It'll also be a philosophically weighty tale. "Are we fundamentally good if left to our own devices? Are we fundamentally bad and need the state to keep us in check or we'll destroy each other?" Jacobson mused to Polygon. "These ideas about how people perceive each other and the government, and what they need based on those perceptions, felt so incredibly timely."

Who is starring in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes?

So, who's playing these songbirds and snakes? First and foremost, Tom Blyth will star as the young Coriolanus Snow. It'll doubtlessly be interesting to see how he fleshes out the villain after Donald Sutherland's commanding presence in the first four "Hunger Games" movies. Blyth isn't hugely well known yet, but he's drummed up some buzz with recent projects like Terence Davies' "Benediction" and the HBO period series "The Gilded Age." His performance as Snow is poised to launch him into further heights.

As for Lucy Gray Baird, she'll be played by "West Side Story" and "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" star Rachel Zegler. She's already proved she can handle emotional drama, thanks to her time working with Steven Spielberg on the former musical, while the latter project showcased her action bonafides. This is a perfect mix for a dauntless and warm-hearted heroine like Lucy.

The rest of the cast is just as impressive. Celebrated talent Peter Dinklage will play Casca Highbottom, the complex brain behind the Hunger Games concept. The legendary Viola Davis will play Dr. Volumnia Gaul, who gets the Hunger Games well and truly rolling with her sinister machinations. Jason Schwartzman will play Lucky Flickerman, ancestor to Stanley Tucci's Caesar Flickerman. The rest of the cast is rounded out by a widely varied list of luminaries, including Hunter Schafer, Burn Gorman, and Ashley Liao.

Many fans have wondered if the stars of the first four "Hunger Games" movies will make an appearance, particularly Jennifer Lawrence. "Watch What Happens Live" host Andy Cohen went ahead and asked the star if she'll be popping up in the Panem of the past, perhaps as Katniss' grandma. Lawrence made it clear that she will not, in fact, appear in "The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes." Tough luck, Katniss fans.

Is there a trailer for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes?

The first trailer for "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" hit the internet on April 27, 2023. It drops fans into a Panem that is simultaneously familiar and dramatically different. New characters like Dr. Volumnia Gaul and Casca Highbottom mastermind the Games, which are significantly less polished. There don't appear to be lavish arenas here, nor sophisticated systems of sponsorship. Even the aesthetic is different: One shot reveals a 1970s-esque wall of TV screens, tuned to the Games. Most of the brutal action seems to take place in a concrete coliseum, full of grey rubble with no apparent origin.

Fans also catch glimpses of Snow and Lucy far beyond the Games. They walk through a forest in what seems to be District 12, jump into swimming holes, and stride through propaganda-laden streets. Snow appears to work as a Peacekeeper at one point, and Lucy is seen performing on stage with a guitar. Quick shots reveal all manner of fascinating artifacts; Perhaps most arrestingly, we briefly see a transparent tank filled with writhing, iridescent snakes.

Another promo released by Fandango reveals even more about this new-old Panem. It purports to be a welcome video, shown to new students at the Capitol's elite Academy. Highbottom (who serves as the Academy's dean), Gaul, student Sejanus Plinth, and Snow (identified as an Academy senior) all make an appearance. A second official trailer takes an even closer look at the Academy; we see students being explicitly trained to transform tributes into bloodstained spectacles. Gaul ends the trailer with an especially vicious lesson, asking Snow, "What are the Hunger Games for?" The answer is clear: Crushing the people of Panem.

Who is directing The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes?

When fans settle in to watch "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes," they won't just be returning to a familiar fictional landscape — they'll be returning to the work of a beloved director. Francis Lawrence, who directed every "Hunger Games" movie except the very first, will helm the Snow-centric prequel. Fans know he's an expert when it comes to this franchise: His skillful, inventive, and steady direction is a huge part of what makes the original quartet work. Now, he's poised to take it back in time.

Lawrence's filmography isn't confined to Panem, however. Many cinephiles first encountered him through 2005's "Constantine," his first feature. More met him through 2007's "I Am Legend." Since he guided Katniss through the revolution, he's directed two more movies: the 2018 spy thriller "Red Sparrow" and the 2022 family fantasy "Slumberland." He's also set to helm an adaptation of the acclaimed "BioShock "video game series.

Who is writing and producing The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes?

Francis Lawrence isn't the only familiar creative returning for the prequel. Producer Nina Jacobson of the production company Color Force has been producing the "Hunger Games" film series since the very beginning after reading the first book in 2009 and personally tracking down Suzanne Collins to secure the film rights. Being the former president of Walt Disney's Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group and specializing in book-to-screen adaptations, it made sense for Jacobson to be the one to help bring the now multi-billion dollar franchise to the big screen.

Joining her for "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" is fellow Color Force producer Brad Simpson, who has worked closely with Jacobson on projects such as the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" film series and the "American Crime Story" anthology series. Screenwriter Michael Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine," "Toy Story 3") is also returning after helping pen the script for 2013's "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," the second film in the series. He and fellow screenwriter Michael Lesslie ("Assassin's Creed," "The Little Drummer Girl") are working from a treatment by original author Suzanne Collins, who is an executive producer on the project.

What will The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes be rated?

"The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" has been given an MPAA rating of PG-13, which comes as no surprise given that every previous "Hunger Games" movie has earned this rating. This is pretty standard for YA movies (especially those centered around dystopias), which don't tend to capture the kind of bloody, explicit brutality that gets movies smacked with a R rating. However, as fans know well, things get plenty dark in Panem. Characters are viciously murdered, war crimes are downright common, and even our noblest heroes are forced to commit haunting crimes. Katniss herself ends the series by putting a fatal arrow through someone's body.

This new outing might take place in the past, but it's not any rosier. The trailers contain glimpses of all sorts of darkness, from a wrathful Snow repeatedly firing a rifle to tributes attacking each other in the arena. It appears as though "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" is going to be the darkest entry in the franchise yet — it's been rated PG-13 for "strong violent content and disturbing material." This phrasing is stronger than that used for previous entries, which only warned of things like "frightening images" and "thematic material."

Where did the filming of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes take place?

To capture the unique setting of post-war Panem in "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes," the production went abroad. Filming took place in Poland and Germany across several locations under the creative guidance of German production designer Uli Hanisch ("Cloud Atlas," "The Queen's Gambit"). Unlike the Hunger Games arenas in the first three films, which were newly designed and built yearly, the 10th Hunger Games took place in the ruins of an amphitheater. These bare-bones arena scenes were filmed at Centennial Hall in Wrocław, a historic building made to host events and concerts.

Additional filming locations include Berlin's Olympiastadion, a sports stadium constructed for the 1936 Summer Olympics, and the Krematorium Baumschulenweg, also located in Berlin. The production also made use of the Monument to the Battle of the Nations in the German city of Leipzig. Elsewhere in Germany, the Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord (a public park built on the site of an abandoned coal and steel production plant) is doubling for District 12, unofficial photos from the set appear to confirm. According to the fan site Panem Propaganda, they are "filming the hanging tree scenes, the District 12 reaping, Peacekeeper recruit training scenes, and more" in Duisburg.

What is the runtime of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes?

Suzanne Collins' "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" comes in at 517 pages when you include the epilogue, making it the longest book in the series. The story of young Coriolanus Snow's formative years is divided into four parts: His time as a student at the Capitol's Academy, being a mentor for the 10th Hunger Games, becoming a peacekeeper, and then his reckoning. The book's four-part structure lends itself well to a two-part movie adaptation — the first part covering the events of the Hunger Games and the second covering the aftermath — but that won't be the case.

Instead of splitting the movie into two parts like they did with "Mockingjay," "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" will take on the challenge of telling its story in a single sitting, albeit a rather long one — the runtime is 165 minutes in the United States (a slightly shorter version will be shown in other territories). This will make "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" the longest movie in the series, taking the crown from "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."

Where does The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes fit into the timeline?

"The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" takes place 64 years before Katniss Everdeen volunteers as tribute. Although audiences are well aware of the origins of the Hunger Games and Coriolanus Snow's future, the upcoming prequel will offer deeper insight into the already established timeline. For instance, the 10th Hunger Games is the first to implement mentors for the district's tributes, chosen from the Academy's top students. Additionally, the audience incentives of gambling and purchasing gifts for tributes that become mainstays in future games are implemented for the first time at the suggestion of Snow. We're also introduced to the masterminds behind the creation of the games, Dr. Volumnia Gual and Casca Highbottom.

Based on scenes teased in the two official trailers, there will be glimpses into the devastating war of the first rebellion and its immediate aftermath through flashbacks, taking viewers even further back in the timeline. We also know what will happen directly after the events of the film thanks to Collins' books. The 11th Hunger Games take place the following year, with the victor being Mags Flanagan, a 16 year old from District 4. She goes on to mentor a number of tributes, including Finnick Odair, who won the 65th Hunger Games under her guidance.

Who is on the soundtrack of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes?

Music plays a crucial role in "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes," hence the title. Lucy Gray Baird uses her musical talent to her advantage as a way of surviving both the Hunger Games and day-to-day life in District 12. "Lucy Gray's legacy is that she introduced entertainment to the Hunger Games," Suzanne Collins explained in an interview with Scholastic (via PR Newswire). She has several original songs (like "The Hanging Tree," which was sung by Katniss in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1") but reading the lyrics in a book is quite different to seeing them performed on screen.

In a Variety interview, Francis Lawrence describes Suzanne Collins as a country music aficionado, which made finding Lucy's sound less of a daunting task. The film's music producer Dave Cobb drew from Appalachian music, and the creative team were also influenced by early Dolly Parton and Sissy Spacek's portrayal of Loretta Lynn when shaping Lucy. Her version of "The Hanging Tree" can be heard in the second official trailer. According to Nina Jacobson, this song and others are performed by Rachel Zegler, who opted to sing them live without playback during filming. Nine-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard is returning to compose the score as he did for the previous films in the "Hunger Games" series.

What are the cast and crew saying about The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes?

Coming back to a franchise eight years after its last installment with an entirely new set of characters can be intimidating, but the creatives behind "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" were up for the challenge. "It very much feels like a Hunger Games movie, but at the same time feels really fresh and unique, and thematically unique," Francis Lawrence told Collider. Much like the previous movies in the series, the story revolves around the just war theory. "The state of nature debate of the Enlightenment period naturally lent itself to a story centered on Coriolanus Snow," Suzanne Collins told Scholastic (via PR Newswire).

As for the approach to the new characters, Lawrence and Nina Jacobson believe they're captivating in their own right. When describing Lucy Gray Baird to Variety, Jacobson explained, "She's such a different character from Katniss. She's such a performer. Katniss is the opposite. This is a woman who loves and lives to perform." Snow, on the other hand, posed some challenges for Lawrence. He explained his thought process to Empire, questioning, "How do we make this person that's going to be the antagonist of our story the protagonist of our story? How can we get audiences behind him in his struggle, and see him change and be groomed and turned into the Snow of the later series?" Lawrence also revealed to Entertainment Weekly that Tom Blyth was advised to refrain from watching early Donald Sutherland movies and embrace his own interpretation of the character.

Will there be any more movies after The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes?

In the literary world, readers regard Suzanne Collins as a highly private person who rarely participates in interviews and lacks a social media presence. It's unknown whether she will expand on the world of Panem with another "Hunger Games" book, but she's yet to dismiss the idea altogether. "I have two worlds, the Underland (the world of The Underland Chronicles series) and Panem (the world of The Hunger Games). I use both of them to explore elements of just war theory. When I find a related topic that I want to examine, then I look for the place it best fits," the author explained to Scholastic (via PR Newswire).

Speaking to Polygon, Nina Jacobson said that she doesn't think Collins is done with Panem just yet. "Do I think she will write more books in the world? I do, and I hope she will," the producer said. "Do I have any idea what they'll be? Not really!" One thing's for sure — Collins won't write another Panem-set book just because there's money to be made. "Suzanne always writes from a thematic foundation," Francis Lawrence told Entertainment Weekly, which is precisely why he and Jacobson stand behind her if she chooses to revisit the series. "If she has something to say, I want to hear it," expressed Jacobson. "I'm fascinated by her perspective. I will always want to follow her lead."

Where to watch the other Hunger Games movies

What better way to prepare for "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" than by revisiting the first four "Hunger Games" movies? Streaming makes this easier than ever, especially for Amazon Prime subscribers: All four flicks are ready to watch on that platform. Don't use Amazon Prime? Not to worry — there are plenty of other options out there. Fans can rent each "Hunger Games" movie for $3.99 from Apple TV+, Google Play, and Microsoft. Looking for something more permanent? In that case, you can buy the flicks for $9.99 (if they're on sale) or $12.99 (if they're not) from Microsoft, Apple TV+, Google Play, and Redbox. Notably, most platforms offer the movies in crisp 4K resolution. There are plenty of ways to get all caught up on the world of the Hunger Games before going back in time to witness the history of the brutal tournament.